from Guy Debord

To Constant
4 April [19]59
Dear Constant:

I have many responses to give you concerning your last two letters and the events in progress. As I have very little time in the period before [the situationists' conference in] Munich, I will respond quite briefly. But I hope that we can soon discuss these issues face to face.

Prince B[ernard] Funds: still nothing, I watch attentively.

Date of Munich: meeting on 17 April [1959]. In principle, I would like to say that, according to [Asger] Jorn, our German friends and Van de Loo must succeed in lodging everyone. The only address that they have given me as the point of assembly (because I will be coming alone, Jorn will arrive from Italy) is that of the Gallery Van de Loo, Maximilianstrasse 7, and this because someone will be there permanently with instructions.

Bravo for the open letter on the demolition of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange![1] I would like to have the text of this letter (in translation) for the journal.[2]

By Monday at the latest, that is to say, the 6th [of April 1959], I will send you the soundtrack "Message from the SI," which lasts around 15 minutes in its first version -- simple phrases in French, spoken by three voices. I will also send the written text to facillitate the translation [into Dutch].

This past week in Paris, Belgian radio (or, rather, the progressive elements who are infiltrated into this organism) recorded an interview on the SI. I have had the occasion to make a very clear declaration on our positions on painting, the disappearance of the individual arts and the fact that no "artistic realization" in the old framework can represent us.

Concerning the project of the inaugural declaration,[3] given your opposition I think that it is preferable not to publish it in this form. Its elaboration obviously suffers from a lack of time for a preparatory discussion. Now it remains to be seen what this discussion can be, and if it will lead to a positive conclusion at the end of the conference.

As elements for this discussion, I attach to this letter a direct response, and a copy of two corrections requested by Andre Frankin,[4] who nevertheless agrees to sign it in any case. For the convenience of the discussion,[5] I consider that the text of this project is divided into 7 autonomous paragraphs and that your critique[6] was made in 4 points (in reality, 3 [points], plus a conclusion that wasn't numbered).


Response to Alberts, Armando, Constant, Oudejans

One finds, at the origin of your position, a distinction between unitary urbanism and the entirety of the situationist movement. You arbitrarily created a conflict of precedence between several aspects of the problem, whereas the novelty and importance of this problem principally resides in its indivisble character. (This expresses itself even in the formulation "The members of the Center of Studies for a Unitary Urbanism" . . . I believe that I am part of this Center.) These reservations aside, I am in agreement with your first point. Our project, which has been insufficiently elaborated, must more and more clearly designate our practical originality, rather than remaining within well-known positions of principle. But the usage of this text[7] is precisely research into a more solid liaison with the minorities of the revolutionary avant-garde (at first to balance among us the immobile "artistic tendency"). This leads us to examine your second point.

The position that you support in this second point is purely and simply reformist. Without wanting to start a debate on reformism, I say again to you that I estimate that capitalism is incapable of dominating and fully employing its productive forces, incapable of abolishing the fundamental reality of exploitation, [and] thus incapable of peacefully abdicating in favor of the superior forces of life called up by its own material development. "The suppression of the working class's painful material poverty" (as you say) has effectively been produced for a half-century in several West European countries and in America. It was paid for by the colonial slavery of the rest of humanity and the atrocities of two world wars. "The slow evolution in the economic domain" that you foresee neglects the Chinese Revolution, the revolutionary movement in all of the under-developed countries, the clumsy economic-political results of Stalinist collectivism, the central phenomenon of the "Cold War," [and] the success of the monopolist and Catholic-military reaction in Europe. The perspective of social revolution has profoundly changed in comparison to its classical schemas. But it is real. On the other hand, when you only find progressive forces in the "intellectuals who revolt against cultural poverty," you yourselves are utopians. What can intellectuals do without liaison with an enterprise that brings global change to social relations? And isn't the deficiency of this revolutionary enterprise in our time precisely the cause of the timidity of this revolt by the intellectuals? If one can not bet on the perishable character of any organization of our society, what can be done? Persuasion -- of whom? -- that one can better dispose of the maisons[8]? Since we have, together, made the exact critique of the narrow social objectives [deformations sociales objectives] of today's painters, should we not interrogate ourselves about the relations of such an optimistic-moderate ideology with the practical activities that have been given to the architects working in an advanced country [i.e., Holland], where a democratic bourgeois State intervenes in urbanism and exercises a reformist authority over its natural anarchy?

We pass to your third point. If it is a critique of an insufficient vocation, which has too much evoked the revolutionary spirit of the 1920s, then you are absolutely right. We are all in agreement concerning the rejection of "all romanticized conceptions of a passed reality" and it is exactly this that is affirmed by the last phrase of our text,[9], reclaiming and detourning (in a much stronger sense) a quite innocent phrase from Marx on poetry. But it seems, paradoxically, that you have accused us of putting us in the grips of a false and out-of-date conception of political revolution, whereas we have not proposed less (see Frankin's second thesis) than showing a new beginning for revolutionary praxis through the practical activity of a cultural revolution.

Naturally, you are right to conclude by recalling "what binds the current avant-garde [together] is the revolt against existing cultural conditions" and right to insist on the necessity of practical work. The problem for all of us is still not having elevated ourselves above the first step of practical work, which is theoretical study and propaganda (for example: your statement of position concerning the demolition of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange). This same difficulty comes from the fact that the revolt against existing cultural conditions can not decide upon [the liquidation] any of the artificial divisions of bourgeois culture, within culture or between culture and life (because then we wouldn't have any real need for a revolt).

A last word. Our necessary activity is dominated by the question of the totality. Take note of it. Unitary urbanism is not a conception of the totality, [and] must not become one. It is an operational instrument to construct an extended decor. Unitary urbanism is "central" to the extent that it is the center of a general construction of a milieu. We can not think of determining and dominating a genre of life using this theoretical vision, not even its planned application. This would be a kind of unrealistic dogmatism. Reality, which is more complex and rich, comprehends all of the relations of these genres of life and their decors. Reality is the only terrain commensurate with our desires today. It is the terrain on which we must intervene.

4 April 1959
G.-E. Debord

[1] Translator: a "Resolution Against the Renovation of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange."

[2] Extracts [were published] in I.S. #3 [December 1959], p. 16.

[3] Translator: "Inaugural declaration of the Third Conference of the SI to revolutionary intellectuals and artists."

[4] Cf. "Platform for a cultural revolution," I.S. #3, p. 24.

[5] Cf. "Discussion on an appeal to revolutionary intellectuals and artists," I.S. #3, p. 22.

[6] Translator: it doesn't appear that the complete text of the Dutch situationists' remarks is available.

[7] Translator: "Inaugural declaration of the Third Conference of the SI to revolutionary intellectuals and artists."

[8] Translator: this word can be translated as homes, houses, businesses, even prisons.

[9] Translator: the "Amsterdam Declaration," co-authored and co-signed by Guy Debord and Constant, and published in I.S. #2, December 1958.

(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 1, 1957-1960. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! October 2005.)

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